Labor relations with our three unions in the village are unsettled. Labor contracts expired with both the police union and the Teamsters representing our public works employees. Our library staff decided to unionize under the auspices of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), the largest union in New York State, so their eventual contract will be an original agreement.
Based on New York State law, all three unions operate under very different sets of rules.
The library CSEA contract is particularly important because it will serve as the template for every agreement for years to come. There are currently eight full time employees in the library union. Part-timers were allowed to vote to certify a union but the CSEA has yet to require the part-time employees to pay dues.
The period between petitioning to unionize by library staffers and the actual vote which chose union affiliation by a very small margin was extremely short. Upon reflection, I think the abbreviated timeframe proved to be a disservice to both parties, limiting the time for everyone to do the cost/benefit analysis of union, non-union affiliation. Also, writing a contract from scratch during these very challenging economic times presents a completely altered stage for negotiation.
As example, the non-union village hall staff, based on a long standing policy, receive 17 paid holidays per year, something that would never be negotiated in the backdrop of 2012 economic realities.
The union representative and the library negotiating team met with the team approved by the library board which includes Village Administrator Harold Porr and a labor counsel. By law, all decisions will be made by the library board. The Village Board of Trustees has no role in these negotiations.
The parties have met 25 times since 2008. The library team recently declared “impasse” and filed with New York State’s Public Employees Relations Board (PERB). Per New York State law, a mediator will be assigned and three negotiating dates will be set.
If an agreement cannot be reached “fact finding” will ensue, whereby both parties draw up reports representing their positions and the fact finder will share them with the Library Board of Trustees. If both parties continue at a standstill, “super conciliation” is imposed allowing a “super conciliator” to do additional fact finding and mediation.
If at the end of this process there is still no agreement, by law the Library Board of Trustees must legislatively impose a first contract. Though lasting for only one year, it would serve as the template for all contracts in perpetuity.
It is important to note that all during this prescribed process, the parties can continue to meet and talk and/or the union membership have the option to decertify union affiliation.
The village’s contract with the police union expired on May 31, 2011, and the two parties began meeting early in 2012 to craft a new agreement.
The parties have met approximately eight to 10 times since. The police union is represented by a committee of officers led by PBA President Detective Richard Anderson as well as labor counsel. The village’s team consists of Village Administrator Porr and labor counsel. Trustees do not sit at the bargaining table, the procedure adopted by most communities as it helps to inherently separate politics from the process.
The police union just recently declared impasse and sought arbitration per state procedure.
Municipal unions are not allowed to strike. Police and fire unions have mandatory arbitration. As a result, police compulsory arbitration takes the form of a three-person panel populated by the labor lawyers representing each party and an agreed upon “neutral.”
Though no date is set as of press time, what will follow is essentially a bench trial. Evidence will be presented, including witnesses such as economists and comparable data vis-à-vis other communities.
Prior to the actual arbitration, the parties will mutually agree upon three or four main issues to debate as every provision of a contract is not tackled in compulsory arbitration. Quite obviously, salary and health provisions usually top the list. Whatever the arbitrators decide is automatically valid for just one year.
Again, parties can decide to negotiate right up until the arbitrators’ final decision.
Our public works employees have traditionally waited until a police contract was negotiated with the village before beginning their process.
However, if our police union ends up in arbitration, the arbitrators’ final award will not have precedential value as the decision will have been made by someone who is not a steward of our taxpayer dollars.
The current situation is not ideal for any of the parties: library staff, police officers, Department of Public Works employees and village government.
Lack of agreements cause a feeling of uncertainty and it is clearly not a recipe for high morale. It is difficult for everyone.
From the perspective of a village trustee, we need to strike a balance between offering our hard working employees a fair wage that demonstrates the respect we have for their work while at the same time being stewards of your dollars as taxpayers and not setting in motion agreements that will detrimentally affect village finances long term. We are in a time of crippling contributions to the New York State pension system and the $1.2 million we just sent off to Albany certainly has to be viewed as part of the overall financial package of every village employee.
I will keep you abreast of any agreements but there will be no conversation from the village while negotiations are in progress. We believe all negotiating should take place at the bargaining table as public airing during such time is unprofessional and most importantly unproductive.